Rumour was transformed into fact today when Tracy Edwards finally confirmed at a press conference in London that she is planning to make a challenge for the Jules Verne Trophy next year and has bought the maxi catamaran Club Med to do it in. The core crew of the boat, now renamed Maiden II, will be the same women who sailed with her in 1998 on her last, unlucky bid in Royal & SunAlliance.
All this has been widely talked about, but the part of the rumours that Edwards left slightly in the shade was whether or not she would be managing the project while her crew take charge of racing the boat. Her answer to that question was ambiguous. “I’m 100 per cent committed to skippering the boat in the Jules Verne, but my crew are now all skippers in their own right and I think it would be egotistical and presumptious in the extreme to assume I’m skippering it. The best person will skipper the boat,” she said.
Here, Edwards was touching on one of the changes in her re-formed team. While she has been at home looking after her baby, Mackenna, her ‘girls’ have all been out accumulating an impressive array of grand prix racing experience. To give some idea of how broad-ranging it is, this is her crew line-up and, in brackets, a much-abridged note of their recent racing: Adrienne Cahalan (Volvo Ocean Race, Open 60s and one of the world’s top navigators); Emma Richards (VOR, Open 50, 60ft trimarans); Miranda Merron (Open 60s, VOR); Helena Darvelid (Open 60s, PlayStation speed record attempt); Samantha Davies (Mini-Transat); Mikaela von Koskull (maxis, 60ft trimarans, various Whitbreads); Sharon Ferris (VOR, Olympic Europe campaign); Hannah Harwood; Anne Monmousseau (Figaro, Open 60s), Frederique Brulee (Figaro, Open 60); and Emma Westmacott (VOR).
Maiden II will sail with 16 crew and Edwards is looking for six more women. The requirements: “all-rounders, because we’ve got our specialists. And strong!” She is adamant that her all-women crew are capable of setting a new record and thinks 60 days is achieveable in this boat.
It might have to be, because Olivier de Kersauson, currently crossing the Equator on his new giant trimaran Géronimo, is on target for the same time. Ideally, she’d like him to set a new record, but of 65 days, which would still give her Maiden II crew a feasible margin to pare away. Either way, she’s resolute. “If it’s down to 60 days, we’ll just have to go out and get it down to 59 days and 23 hours,” she says. Her boat is unquestionnably capable of it: as Club Med it went round in 62 days – with unfavourable weather at the start and a loop up to New Zealand.
Edwards’s plan is ambitious and risky. Ambitious because it embraces a five-year plan that includes the Jules Verne Trophy early next year as well as assaults on records such as the trans-Mediterranean route from Marseilles to Carthage, the Miami to New York record, the Round Britain and Ireland record, the Round Ireland record, the 24-hour record and the trans-Channel record. Part of her plan is to move on after the Jules Verne Trophy to The Race in 2004, this time doing a non-stop circumnavigation with a even bigger difference – a mixed crew.
But there are risks to this project, and the biggest is the not so obvious one of funding. So far there is no overall sponsor and to get Club Med Tracy Edwards had to put her own money on the line, remortgaging her house for her third sailing project in a row. Even this will underwrite the campaign only until July. To complete the entire programme, she is looking for £5 million.
Edwards is bullish about it, saying with her her famously feisty determination: “If I didn’t believe I could raise this money, I wouldn’t be remortgaging my house again. And we feel that in the world of sports sponsorship at the moment this is not too large an amount to raise.”